Saying Goodbye To A Beloved Bike After 20 Years

I’ve parted company with my beloved 1998 Yamaha Royal Star Tour Classic, after nearly two decades. I feel as though I’ve sold out my best friend. You’ve heard of “buyer’s regret”? I think I’m feeling “seller’s remorse”. And yet, deep down, I know it was time. The older I get, the heavier that bike feels. The more years and miles she accumulates, the more attention she needs- old parts need replacing, more tune-ups are necessary, more tightening and wrenching is required. For someone not very mechanically inclined, this would eventually become a challenge.

Tony was the ideal buyer for her: A veteran motorcycle rider, owner of many bikes over the years, a seasoned mechanic, but best of all, his wife and kids want to ride with him. Perfect.

After gabbing extensively about our various experiences out on the road, we settled on a price, signed the requisite paperwork, then I remanded “Bertha” into his care. As Tony rode her out of my driveway, his wife following behind in their SUV, I realized a chapter had closed in my life. The bike that had carried me across America, north, south, east and west, the bike my girls had grown up on the back of, had moved on, like my life. My girls are grown and gone now, my days of being out on road trips for weeks at a time are drawing to a close, and I’ve begun writing new stories in a new chapter. Yet this is also a new chapter in Tony’s life. Now that his kids are of age to ride with him, and his wife has taken an interest in it, he’s got a motorcycle large enough and comfortable enough to make their dreams happen. And that makes me happy.

Bertha’s gone to a good home.

Tony, my new friend and new owner of the old girl.

The story of how the big Yamaha came to me is found here. It’s quite a tale, in my opinion. And how I came by her set the stage for a double-decade joy ride of people, places, experiences, and memories I’ll cherish the rest of my life.

Astride this bike, I’ve cemented stories in the hearts of my two beloved daughters that they will hopefully share with their children some day. From road trips to after-school rides home, from their elementary years into college, they both grew up on the back of Bertha. For instance, our oldest daughter Ansley, upon her high school graduation, didn’t want a senior cruise or trip to Daytona. She wanted a bike trip with her dad. We spent 5 days riding the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying each other’s company and the Southern Appalachians on board this motorcycle.

When Kelsey graduated a couple of years later, we also joyfully road tripped up into north Georgia and east Tennessee, and that bike became the glue that sealed those father/daughter bonds forever. Both my girls loved “Big Bertha”.

“Selfie Queen” daughters Ansley mugging in my helmet reflection, and Kelsey peeking over my shoulder.

Astride this Royal Star, I participated in a renaissance of riding in my mom and dad’s lives, as they returned to two wheels after a few decades. We rode all over the southeast together, sometimes just my father and I, other times accompanied by my mother as well. It’s difficult to find words to describe the sheer joy of motorcycle riding with your parents, riding through beauty during the day, and listening to their stories of old by a campfire by night. Dad sold his bike a couple of years ago, and their health prevents them both from riding anymore, but for a splendid decade or so, we shared the road together.

Dancing on the Dragon with Dad, and riding through Cheaha, Alabama with Mom and Dad.

On board the big Royal, I’ve reconnected with old friends, and made new ones. My life-long friend Lyle and I have made many a road trip together, as well as other childhood and adolescent chums like Jimmy, Pat, and Aaron. The Yamaha in fact, powered the renewal of an old friendship that would end too soon in tragedy and grief, but I’d do it all over again, given the chance.

I’ve connected with friends I’d have never become acquainted with, were it not for motorcycling. And “Big Bertha” was the faithful steed that rolled me with my new friends. Mike and I crossed the country together, riding groups like CMA (Christian Motorcyclists Assn) and Spirit Riders have given me a sense of belonging on the road, and I’ve joined in many worthy causes and benefit rides, astride this trusty old Yamaha.

Mike and I at Cadillac Ranch, with Lyle at the terminus of Natchez Trace, chasing Jimmy and Lyle up the Blue Ridge, and atop Hwy. 129 with my late friend Aaron.

In fact, Bertha has become more recognizable than me at times. She’s graced the cover of newspaper articles, been featured in magazines like Motorcyclist and Cycle World, and was the fixture in many a story told in Born to Ride’s pages. And of course, she’s often been the subject of Road Dirt articles and stories these past couple of years. Through it all, she’s never bucked me off, never left me stranded somewhere, never failed to return me home. As my friend Joshua Placa recently told me, “What more can you get from a bike than a box full of memories and miles of fun and thrills? She fulfilled her purpose, and you yours. Now quit your cryin’ and go ride somethin’.”

What is it about our motorcycles, that we become so emotionally attached to them? That we affix names and ascribe personalities upon metal? I like my pickup truck, but I loved that bike, like a trusted friend. Riding it, the machine felt as though it were an extension of me, like some sci-fi cyborg. After nearly 100K miles, that behemoth of a bike (825 lbs worth) felt like a bicycle to my rather diminutive frame (5’8”, 155 lbs worth). The most comfortable motorcycle I’ve ever owned, and yet by far the largest.

Rolling on the Dragon, fleeing storms in south Georgia, the Mid Point Cafe on Route 66, and the Gulf Coast near Panacea, Florida

True, I would have made these miles, memories and friendships aboard another bike as well. But I made them on this bike. I’m forever grateful for it. So I’m taking Joshua’s advice- wiping the tears, offering thanks for the years, and suiting up to take Bonney out for a stroll. Small, light, quick and responsive, she’s a worthy new dance partner.

Goodbye Bertha. Tony will take great care of you. Hello Bonney. Let’s take a ride.

Rob

*Do you have a “Goodbye Bertha” story of a bike you loved and miss? Share it in the comments below!

The new girl in town. 2017 Triumph Bonneville 900.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Congrats on the new Triumph. You’re gonna like the way you feel. As I’ve quoted before “I (you) were so much older then I’m (you’re) younger then that now.” Next time you ride something like that Yamaha it will feel so big and loose and clumsy it’ll blow your mind. Go have some fun in the corners now.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thanks Larry. I’ve actually owned the Bonney for a few years now, even done some road trips with it. Love everything about it, most notably it’s size. I’ll always cherish memories of “Big Bertha”, though I’ll never own a heavy again.

      Reply

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